Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sedona Sweat Lodge Deaths

The death of two people in Sedona, Arizona hits close to home for me in many ways. One of the deceased is from Milwaukee Wisconsin, not far from where I live.
I obviously was not in attendance at James Arthur Ray's Spiritual Warrior Retreat in Sedona.
James Arthur Ray was featured in The Secret. He is considered a self help guru that has appeared on Oprah and Larry King Live. Some people call him a new age snake oil salesman and a con artist.
There is no secret that this man has become extremely wealthy off of spiritual seekers. It is reported he was charging between 9000 to 10000 dollars for the 5 day retreat he led in Sedona.
Here's the thing, he was leading people through some very intense spiritual practices that he had no business doing. I know this from experience. I have attended and helped put on several sweat lodges in the past.
A sweat lodge is a very sacred event. A sweat lodge, as conducted in a Native American way should only be led by a trained Native American Elder. Unless he was given specific training and permission by an elder he is violating a spiritual law that could carry dramatic repercussions!
Many people do not understand these things and think that it does not matter. Many people think that spiritual matters are nothing more than pure bullshit and do not have to be respected.
I have found through my own personal experiences that Native American spiritual teachings are very powerful and very wonderful and open to all to learn, however it can not be stressed enough that disrespecting the teachings can have dire consequences! It is very clear that by the mere act of charging exorbitant fees he corrupted sacred traditions. Many Native Americans believe that entering the sacred lodge is the same as entering the mother earths womb. Thus after the purifying you are reborn anew. So if you are charging large sums of money you have desecrated the lodge and turned the mother into a whore.
It is also reported that other Native practices were participated in. There was talk of a group vision quest being conducted. This is performed in traditional ways in solitude with a trained spiritual person overseeing the quest. While this also involves a fast, that traditionally would include no food or water during the duration of the quest. If this was done prior to the lodge ceremony many would be in a dangerous situation due to lack of food and water. If that was the case the leader was willfully negligent in combining two very powerful ceremonies in a very dangerous manner. I have never heard of someone fasting before a lodge. I can not believe a leader would be trained in this manner. It looks to me like arrogance and ego got in the way and would be further proof of incompetence and negligence. I have not been trained in the ways of the warrior however, as our lodge was a bear lodge or healing lodge.
The reports of the lodge proceedings themselves are also very suspect. It is reported that there were 55-65 people in the lodge. The most people I have ever seen go in at once was 12! Sounds to me like someone was more concerned with profit than the well being of the participants.(65 x 10,000 = 650,000 dollars!)
Another report stated that 8 rounds were to be conducted. I am only aware of 4 rounds. A round is when the doors or flaps are closed after the grandfathers(Heated stones) are brought into the lodge. Depending on the amount of grandfathers brought in determines the heat and or intensity of the round. Also, was everyone offered water and adequate access to fresh air in between rounds? The only way you can understand these things is to experience them, and I can assure you this lodge was not conducted under proper supervision. Remember this was billed as a warrior training, I'm sure the mentality was to push it to the limit.
Stepping back to the construction of the sweat lodge, it is reported that plastic tarps and blankets were used to cover the lodge. If plastic were used it would assure proper ventilation would be next to impossible to provide for 65 people crammed in the lodge.
What of the construction itself. Building a sweat lodge is a complicated ceremony in and of itself. Much care must be taken in observing the proper respect, prayers, and offerings during the construction process. Was there an elder overseeing this process?
The Native American spiritual teachings are a way of life for many. It is so very important that if you wish to study and incorporate them as your way of life you must be taught in proper, respectful, manners. This can only be achieved by Elders who have been trained in traditional ways to help others learn these ways. Part of the problem is the attempted merging of traditional native ways with other beliefs. It is possible, but one should always exercises care and caution in attempting to do so.
Finally you can't completely absolve the participants themselves from their own share of responsibility in this tragedy. Sometimes people can get so wrapped up in their own spiritual agenda that they forget others around them. A true lodge is a community. All are concerned with each others well being. All are constantly watching over each other. It is easy to get caught up in the moment when seeking, but it should never come at the cost of another, and should always be done with eyes completely open, discerning for ones self, instead of blindly following another, someone who very often turns out to be someone very different then who you think they are!


  1. Damn... Do you really believe there is a "spirit realm" somewhere waiting to enact 'dire consequences' if one group of people fails to follow the superstitious practices of another group of people?

    Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket!

  2. No, I do not believe what you have surmised. What I do know is a lot of people go around dabbling into spiritual teachings, not understanding what they are doing, and as a result can have dramatic repercussions on their lives. Meaning, each level has their own specific, naturally occurring laws that if ignored could have the potential to cause naturally occurring events to manifest in an individuals life. We all are ultimately responsible for our own actions. I think there is a certain amount of protectiveness around Native American Spiritual teachings, that is a direct result of the attempted genocide on the Native American race. Therefore ones motives should be of pure intent when learning these ways. These cautions appear throughout many books written by Native Americans. Oh and why is Jesus in a chicken basket?

  3. I should clarify for those who don't know. Native American Spiritual teachings can be very physically demanding. They should not be taken lightly. Fasting for a vision quest then going in a sweat lodge for extended periods of time would be a grueling test for the most physically fit person. The dire consequences that Chase was referring to did happen. I am not suggesting the spirit realm killed these people. It is obvious to me that a lack of understanding on behalf of all occurred. I know of no Native American who would advocate fasting for a vision before going into a sweat lodge. It is too much as was shown by the two deaths and 19 taken to the hospital.

  4. you are so on the mark. what you say is true all of it. when you open yourself to the spiritual hwy you must be prepared if not i can cause bad things to happen to you or your famliy.